Descendant of Edgar Snow laments over US media distortion of history, demolishing bridge of China communication
Bridge in new era
Published: Jun 23, 2021 10:37 PM
A sculpture inspired by the Party emblem in Nanniwan Scenic Area in Yan'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Photo: VCG

A sculpture inspired by the Party emblem in Nanniwan Scenic Area in Yan'an, Northwest China's Shaanxi Province. Photo: VCG

In today's era of increased US suppression of China, will there still be Western journalists like Edgar Snow who tell the world of the real China?

Descendants of the foreigners who had forged a close bond with China since years before the founding of the People's Republic of China like Edgar Snow recently visited Northwest China's Yan'an. Yan'an served as the base of the Communist Party of China (CPC)-led revolution during the 1930s to the1940s before it established the PRC in 1949. Their return is for the purpose of discovering the CPC's recipe for success and find ways for the "Snows in the new era" to share unprejudiced stories about China in the modern days. 

Edgar Snow, a household name in China, was a journalist from the US best known for his book in 1937 called Red Star Over China which portrayed a clear and compelling image of how the then "mysterious" CPC led the revolution and brought human dignity and equality - and awakened China's millions - through insightful conversations with key figures of the Party, including Mao Zedong. 

Today, amid the Western media's mainstream prejudice-filled coverage of China and the CPC, many recall the value of Snow's groundbreaking work should anyone desired to find the secrets of how the current 100-year-old CPC has successfully rejuvenated and reinvented itself to lead China to where it is today. 

Snows bridged misunderstanding

Edgar Snow's statue in front of the cave dwelling where he lived in Yan'an. Photo: VCG

Edgar Snow's statue in front of the cave dwelling where he lived in Yan'an. Photo: VCG

Snow's global bestseller provided the first peek into the real CPC base and its leaders that were described as bandits "with cyan faces and tusks" by the Kuomintang, the ruling party of China before 1949, which had been working hard to stifle the revolution through military and economic blockades since 1930s.

The book served as "a reference" for at least two former US presidents - Franklin D. Roosevelt and Richard Nixon - and also contributed to the normalization of China-US relations in the 1970s.

Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi once said that China welcomes more Edgar Snows of the new era among foreign journalists to deliver "truthful, objective, and fair stories" to promote mutual understanding without "ideological bias."

"I think it's very important that we continue to commemorate this, because of the recent politics in America actively demolishing this bridge of understanding. It's very important that we continue to look at these times and what Edgar and Helen Foster Snow did, and the bridge they were trying to build," Eric Foster, nephew of Helen Foster Snow, told the Global Times at a forum on "Legacy of the Snows in New Era" organized by the Chinese People's Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries (CPAFFC) in Yan'an.

Eric Foster  Photo:Hu Yuwei/GT

Eric Foster, nephew of Helen Foster Snow  Photo:Hu Yuwei/GT

Edgar Snow's wife, Helen Foster, was also a great figure in unveiling to the world the town of Yan'an and the CPC through getting more first-hand accounts about the CPC leaders and the Red Army.

Eric Foster suggested that the media in America is trying to distort history, and it's important for the young generation to learn the true history of China.

He cited an example to illustrate how the misreading of China occurs. "I had a friend five years ago who went to school in France, and she said her professor thought that Chinese men still have these long ponytails. He's a professor, a doctor at a French university. That's probably because, in the West, they don't hear anything good about China apart from bad propaganda." 

Today, 85 years after the Snows arrived in Yan'an, the means of communication have become increasingly diversified, and China has gone from a backwater to the world's second-largest economy. But what remains unchanged is that parts of the West continue to cultivate an animus and antagonism against China and still misinterpret the CPC.

Lin Songtian, president of the CPAFFC, at the forum called for more international journalists to facilitate a deeper understanding of China in a comprehensive way.

"We need to continue the legacy of people like Edgar Snow, Israel Epstein, and Rewi Alley, who communicated Chinese stories with the world in a way that captured hearts and minds," Andy Boreham from New Zealand who now works for Shanghai Daily as a columnist and filmmaker, told the Global Times.

However, "the Western world finds it very difficult to understand China and Chinese stories, and I think most of that comes down to language and cultural differences. It's hard to connect with someone you can't understand," Boreham analyzed the potential gap.

Boreham gave many cases of foreigners discrediting his work simply because he works in China, and they accuse him of "spreading lies for money, or of being brainwashed and so on." It is "hurtful" but does not dampen his enthusiasm to transmit the China he's learned about to the world.

CPC spirit in their family's veins

Inspired by his aunt, Eric Foster had learned about the accomplishments of the CPC from many angles and found how he himself was "proud of the efficient government that has raised so many people out of poverty."

Michael Crook, son of Isabel Crook, a Canadian scholar, and her British husband David Crook, is yet another example of those who can feel the CPC's people-oriented spirit runs through their family veins.

Inspired by Snow's book, in 1947, Isabel Crook and her journalist husband came to China to study the revolutionary land reform taking place in China. They were also great educators who helped students, many of whom later became diplomats, to gain knowledge in different fields and better prepare them for communicating with foreigners in English.

Michael Crook's early impression of the CPC came from his childhood observations of how CPC members volunteered to sign up for shabby, north-facing houses while leaving bright, new, south-facing houses for their non-CPC colleagues in welfare housing distribution at the university where his parents worked.

"They were not there to enjoy happiness; they were there to serve the people. I think this is real communist," Crook told the Global Times.

Michael Crook, son of Isabel Crook. Photo:Hu Yuwei/GT

Michael Crook  Photo:Hu Yuwei/GT

Dehua Müller, a Western-looking man with a thick Beijing accent, prefers to call himself "a real Beijing Man."

His father, Hans Müller, a German-Jewish doctor, played a significant role during World War II as a field doctor in Yan'an for a major CCP army. Müller stayed in China afterward to serve in various positions at hospitals and greatly contributed to the research in hepatitis B and its vaccine until his death in 1994.

Although having lived in various countries for several years, Dehua Müller, who grew up in Beijing, still feels at home only when he sees the Chinese national flag.

Dehua Müller has also witnessed the dramatic changes that have taken place in China over the decades under the Communist Party of China. "When I was young, my parents were often absent because they were very busy working with the Communist Party members to build the new country better," Dehua Müller told the Global Times.

Hans Müller joined the CPC in 1957. Inspired by his father, Dehua Müller who now lives in one of Beijing's hutong with his family said that he has always been eager to be a member of the CPC, even though he acquired US citizenship for work convenience.

Dehua Müller, son of Hans Müller. Photo:Hu Yuwei/GT

Dehua Müller  Photo:Hu Yuwei/GT

Jewish journalist and author Israel Epstein is also a Western figure who gained Chinese nationality in 1957 and joined the CPC in 1964 after he visited Yan'an in 1944 as a reporter for the US media. 

"As a Jew, he had deep sympathy for the Chinese people who were indomitable in the struggle against fascism. Through talking to Communist Party leaders, he realized that the Communists were really helping the poor. He had a special feeling for China and would not allow anyone to damage the reputation of China." Epstein's widow, Huang Huanbi, told the Global Times. "If Epstein were still alive, he would like to see more foreigners who really care about China and the CPC."

Western media stifles modern Snows

Michael Crook helped found the Western Academy of Beijing, an international school, in 1994 and has been involved with the International Committee for the Promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives (Gung Ho-ICCIC), whose mission is to bring benefits and opportunities to communities in need, for about 30 years.

He was tagged by some as an "Edgar Snow" type in the modern era who always shows support and kindness in a time of crisis, in reference to his donations to a hospital in Chengdu and people in Wuhan during the early days of the COVID-19 epidemic.

He still remembers that when China was just beginning its modernization drive, someone translated modernization as "Westernization." But nowadays, he is satisfied to see the national confidence of the Chinese people being built up.

Crook believes that what's missing today is not reporters like Snow who are willing to tell the truth, but that the Western media, which is controlled by corporations and the political establishment, is preventing them from giving an objective and honest voice to China.

"Countries such as Britain, France, and Germany often pretend to represent the international community as if they can represent all humanity at all. Their reports on China are certainly not objective and true. It is crucial for developing countries to build their own media platforms that are independent of Western countries," he told the Global Times.

A tourist visits the Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall. Photo: IC

A tourist visits the Yan'an Revolutionary Memorial Hall. Photo: IC

Ian Goodrum, a writer and digital editor in Beijing, also a member of the US Communist Party who was invited to the forum, expresses his feeling as a "minor party" member in the West. He said attacking China has become a bipartisan consensus in the US and no one in a position of power is able to challenge that consensus and mainstream narrative. "That's the effectiveness of the united front strategy that is being used in the West, and it would be very difficult for the Snows of today to be published," Ian said at the forum.

"But China's own capacity for sharing its story has increased greatly thanks to  much more media sophistication and more outlets," which serve people who are challenging the mainstream anti-China narrative, he said, calling for more creative ways to explore it.

Yan'an Precious Pagoda, illuminated atop Baota Mountain, is regarded as a symbol of Chinese revolutionary spirit. Photo:IC

Yan'an Precious Pagoda, illuminated atop Baota Mountain, is regarded as a symbol of Chinese revolutionary spirit. Photo:IC